Alice in Wonderland

alice with caterpillar

Alice in Wonderland & Depth Psychology
One of the themes of Alice in Wonderland is that of Identity. Once Alice is down the rabbit hole (entry into the unconscious?) she constantly changes size. She literally doesn’t know where ‘she fits in.’ The theme is further highlighted when the caterpillar asks who she is. Alice replies, “I hardly know. I can’t explain myself because I’m not myself.”

Alice is not so much frightened by her identity-crisis as puzzled and ‘curious.’ ‘Curious’ is a linguistic leitmotif occurring throughout the narrative.
She says, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit hole. . . and yet. . it’s rather curious. . this sort of life.”

Her ‘elastic’ out-of-focus identity is mirrored in the topsy-turvy world she finds herself in. A world where croquet balls are hedgehogs, babies turn into pigs and a cat leaves its grin in a tree canopy! In the Caucus Race everyone wins and Alice is solemnly presented with a prize of her own thimble. Perhaps this illustrates a psychological truth; that we don’t need to look for approval from others to know a sense of our identity. The thimble was in her possession before the race – which wasn’t even a race as ordinarily understood.

‘Everyone is mad’ in Wonderland – according to the Cheshire Cat. At the tea-party Alice is told it is ‘always six o’clock’. Even time itself has distorted and cannot be relied upon.

At one point in the narrative Alice reflects on her childhood when she read fairy tales; this is where she thought impossible things happened. Now she says she is in the middle of such a tale. This has echoes of the dream-within-a -dream motif.

Now, where else do we find impossible events happening? Yes, in dreams! And of course the unconscious is rampant in dreams. (And the unconscious is a source for creativity!) Could the unconscious be where we should all look to ‘complete’ our identities? After all, our conscious selves (personas) are only a part of who we are. Jungian psychology recognised that it is only by embracing our Shadow that we truly integrate. For example if we don’t recognise that we have unresolved ‘anger’ inside, it will most likely surface (embarrassingly) when we least want it to. This applies to all the impulses and habits of thought and feeling we have hidden away; imps and goblins such as envy, spitefulness and paranoia.

Here is a quote from Insearch by James Hillman:

Loving oneself is no easy matter just because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable. The care one gives this humiliating part is also the cure. . . Loving the shadow may begin with carrying it, but even that is not enough. At one moment something else must break through, that laughing insight at the paradox of one’s own folly which is also everyman’s.

This inner work may take decades of perseverance and may often be a case of ‘falling seven times and standing up eight’ – to quote a Japanese proverb!

Both Alice narratives, although written for children, are examples of books which can be read by adults and reveal hidden depths!

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5 comments on “Alice in Wonderland

  1. Beautiful thoughts! Makes me want to read my favorite childhood story again.

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  2. I tend to believe in dreams as sometimes offering a glimpse into the subconscious (the term “unconscious” has always bothered me). Sometimes when I feel guilty about something, I’ll have a dream that reflects it, even though during the day I haven’t let it bother me too much.

    In any case, there’s gotta be something to dreams, at least sometimes!

    And Alice in Wonderland was my favorite story as a little girl. I never understood it, of course, but everything about it drew me in.

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  3. erikleo says:

    That’s the great thing about these stories; they can be read by children and adults! Same with fairy tales such as those of the Grimm brothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is great:

    The care one gives this humiliating part is also the cure. . . Loving the shadow may begin with carrying it, but even that is not enough. At one moment something else must break through, that laughing insight at the paradox of one’s own folly which is also everyman’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. wisreader says:

    The best things written for children always have the best things for adults to learn (or re-learn); or so I believe.

    Like

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